Monday, June 18, 2007

La Boca Negra

I first tasted a cake by this name at A.R. Valentien during Restaurant Week, earlier this year. It was the hilight of an otherwise pretty mediocre meal, and the name stuck in my mind. "Boca Negra Cake" seems like a lovely poetic name for such a simple dessert. It means "black mouth" - or perhaps more accurately "black mouthful."
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A few months later, I experimented with a flourless chocolate cake for a friend's birthday - using Lindsay Shere's recipe. It was good, but very fragile and delicate. This time I wanted something more sturdy. The cake needed to feed a lot of people, and I wanted it to fit in a sheet pan for easy transportation. Something super rich and dense seemed just the thing.

I finally settled on a recipe from "Cooking with Julia" by Dorie Greenspan. I doubled it, but one and a half times the recipe would have easily been enough - I had enough leftover after making this cake (which is about 1 inch thick) to do a whole 'nother 9 inch square about half an inch thick. Cut into squares, it was like the richest batch of brownies imaginable.
Boca Negra Birthday Cake
The recipe is unusual, in that it calls for chopping a LOT of chocolate, then melting it with a mixture of boiling booze and sugar. (The recipe called for bourbon, but I used brandy.) Small pieces of softened butter are blended in, and then the eggs are added. A tiny bit of flour is used to absorb some of the richness, and I added a dash of salt.
The hardest part of this whole process, by far - was the making of the chocolate plaque on top. It was my first time tempering chocolate of any kind, and white chocolate is especially delicate. I did finally get it right, after about three tries, but it was amazing how quickly the chocolate set up when tempered - and how it never set up when it wasn't. The process involves heating and cooling the chocolate between a fairly narrow range of around 80 to 115. The chocolate heated much faster than it cooled - since the ambient air temperature wasn't much lower than that. I also did a much better job of writing in class, but the properly tempered chocolate we used was a lot easier to work with - you can see the difference here.

I topped the cake with a white chocolate vanilla mousse and berries, which were a nice foil for the outrageously rich cake beneath. The cake itself sits somewhere between brownies and fudge. Small servings are perfectly adequate, and chocolate lovers will swoon. It improves with a couple of days of aging, and stores beautifully in the fridge.

Boca Negra Birthday Cake
adapted from Lora Brody's recipe in Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

18 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used the Trader Joes 72% bittersweet from their Pound Plus bars - inexpensive and very good quality)
2 cups sugar - 1/2 cup separated out
3/4 cup good quality brandy (or bourbon)
3 sticks or cubes (12 ounces) soft unsalted butter, cut into half inch slices (cut and then allow to soften.)
7 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
dash fine sea salt

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x16 inch rectangular pan with parchment, pressing the corners into the pan. Butter or grease the paper. Put the cake pan in a shallow roasting pan and set aside until needed. Put the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and keep close at hand.

In a 2-quart saucepan, mix 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and the bourbon; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a full boil. Immediately pour the hot syrup over the chopped chocolate and quickly stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Piece by piece, stir the butter pieces into the chocolate mixture, making certain that each piece of butter is melted before you add another.

Put the eggs and the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a medium bowl; whisk until the eggs thicken slightly. Beating with the whisk, add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until well-blended. Gently whisk in the flour and salt.

Pour into the prepared pan, place both pans in the oven, and fill the outer pan with 1 inch of water. Bake for about thirty minutes, until a crust forms on the cake and it is firm to the touch.

White Chocolate Vanilla Mousse:
1 packet of gelatin (2 1/4 tsp)
3 Tablespoons of whipping cream
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup of whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
6 oz of white chocolate (by weight)
3/4 cup of chilled whipping cream

Put one inch of water in a shallow pan and bring to a simmer. Set up a double boiler (preferably using a bowl) and melt the white chocolate - keep the water simmering. Set up an ice bath, and put your whipped cream bowl and beater in the freezer.

Stir together the gelatin and three tablespoons of cream together in a small bowl, and set in the shallow pan of simmering water to dissolve. When it is liquified, Add the gelatin, egg yolks and cup of cream to the white chocolate all at once and whisk until slightly thickened. (It may have some lumps.) Whisk in the vanilla paste.

Sieve the mixture into a bowl (if necessary) and place in the ice bath. Stir until thickened to the texture of lemon curd. Transfer to a large shallow mixing bowl.

With a standing mixer, whip the 3/4 cup of cream to soft peaks. Gently fold the cream into the eggnog base -being careful not to overmix. It should be slightly foamy and creamy. Put the cream in a shallow bowl in the fridge, and chill until set before spreading on the cake. (You will have a lot left over. It can be used anywhere you would normally use pastry cream.)

To prepare the cake, spread the vanilla mousse evenly over the cake, spread with berries, and top with chocolate curls and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. This should be stored in the refrigerator, but served at room temperature.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

That's not me, is it?

As it turns out, you can take just about anything too far. I do sometimes think there's a fine line between showing off and demonstrating a genuine love of and enthusiasm for food and feeding other people, but I'm not quite sure which category this article in today's NY Times is talking about.

I'm reading the Omnivore's Dilemma right now, and I can kind of relate to the ennui about overdoing the fancy/organic/provenance thing, but I resent the implication that it's somehow frivolous. People should care where the poor pig came from, and I am glad they are going to the cheesemonger instead of unwrapping the Cracker Barrel. Then again, I certainly wouldn't be mortified about serving store bought tortillas to guests (especially when I don't know how to make them!)

And what's so wrong with Ann Taylor anyway??

Dang that snooty New York Times.